Person of day - 12 APRIL 2023
Grandmaster Joel Lautier was born in Canada, even though his father was French and his mother was Japanese. Later on, the family moved to France, where young Joel was introduced to the ancient game. His first result surpassed all expectations: the young boy reached a high level very quickly and he won the U14 world championship soon after. Interestingly, the Frenchman’s main competitors in that tournament were Sofia and Judit Polgar, but Lautier defeated them both. At the age of 15, France’s rising star won the U20 world championship. This caused a sensation, because in Adelaide, Joel was competing against stars such as Boris Gelfand, Vasiliy Ivanchuk and Vladimir Akopian, but he overtook all those and Gregory Serper, another Soviet chess player, based on additional criteria.
In 1990, Lautier qualified for the inter-zonal tournament, where he lost to Anand and Shirov at the finish and failed to qualify for the candidates’ matches, but he nonetheless became a grandmaster and de-facto the leader of Western European chess. The renowned specialist Lev Polugaevsky moved to France to work with him. During that time, Lautier actively learned Russian, which he would learn to a fluent level alongside French, English and Japanese.
Thanks to Joel’s successes, the super-club Lyon was created, which would go on to win two European Champions Cups with their leader. Ten years later, Lautier would realise another grand project- the billionaire Madame Ojjeh provided significant funds to establish NAO Club, which would also win two European Leagues.
Lautier was a long-time leader of his national team at Olympiads and, with him at the helm, France turned from a country that finished mid-table in the Tournament of Nations into a mighty chess nation. For example, in 2004, the French were the final challengers to the future winners from Ukraine.
With Polugaevsky’s support, Lautier performed well at the 1993 inter-zonal tournament, qualifying for the candidates’ matches under FIDE rules, but he lost to Jan Timman by a minimal score in the 1/8 finals. Alas, in 1995, Lev Polugaesvky passed away after a protracted illness. His pupil remained in the elite ranks of world chess: a regular winner of French championships, he triumphed in over 30 international tournaments and national club championships in France, Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. Beside Vassily Ivanchuk, he is the only grandmaster who defeated every world champion of his time; he beat Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Khalifman, Vishy Anand, Ruslan Ponomarev, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Veselin Topalov. He is one of the few players who has a positive score of +2-1=7 against Garry Kasparov.
Despite all his success, Lautier never won the fight for the world championship. In FIDE world championships, he lost to Boris Gelfand in the third round twice. Joel partially realised his ambitions as trainer: as part of Vladimir Kramnik’s team, he helped his friend overcome Garry Kasparov. Later on, the Frenchman became one of the directors and President of Association of Chess Professionals, as well as holding the title of Vice-President of the French Chess Federation.
After finishing his sporting career in 2009, he moved to Moscow with his second wife (Almira Skripchenko, a famous chess player6 was his first wife). At first, he worked as chairman of mergers and acquisitions division of the European Business Associate before becoming the director general of RGG Capital.